Thank you to mysterious friend who calmed Grandmaw

Published 8:15 pm Friday, October 6, 2017

Hurricane Opal barreled through LaGrange 22 years ago this week. I was young enough to be excited rather than scared, and I sat up all night talking to a friend on the phone.

I never gave a thought to the danger of sitting in a picture window watching giant, very elderly trees twist and torque. I just figured everything would be OK.

Mama and Daddy slept through the whole thing. One relative didn’t though. My Grandmaw Ellis, who was born and lived her whole life in south central Florida, was worried about her Georgia babies. Me specifically, I guess, because when she picked up the phone and made a call, she asked the lady who answered if I was OK.

That lady told me the story a couple of years ago when we happened to meet. She knew she was speaking to the right person because how many Peppers can there be in LaGrange, Georgia? And then this week our paths crossed again, and we delved a little further into the mystery of the midnight phone call.

I haven’t asked my new friend why in the middle of a hurricane, huddled up beneath a mattress, fighting a migraine and wondering if she would live to see morning, she answered the phone the night Opal raged in LaGrange, but she did. Over and over again. Each time she answered, Grandmaw asked if I was OK, and she insisted that the lady must know me, because I was Pepper, and everyone knew Pepper!

Somehow we all made it through the night unscathed except for a few downed trees and power lines. Grandmaw never mentioned her frantic phone calls to a stranger, so we’ll never know exactly how it happened, but I believe that she probably first dialed our home number and finding it busy, dialed a random number, figuring that whomever answered in small town LaGrange would be familiar with her grandchild.

One phone call during the storm would’ve been understandable; a wrong number perhaps. But what frustration to have the same elderly lady call again and again, with the same questions and the same querulous tone, while you’re praying that your house doesn’t fall on your head!

Back then, Grandmaw Ellis was just beginning to show signs of the dementia that would eventually incapacitate her. It would be years before we realized that things had gotten bad.  I guess her fear for her LaGrange relatives let the disease take over that night. She probably thought each call was her first attempt to find me.  Thank you, friend, for your patience. And thank you, Grandmaw for loving me enough to battle your fading mind to make sure that I was safe.

Pepper Ellis Hagebak is a resident of LaGrange.